UFC heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos has earned a reputation as one of the classiest athletes competing in mixed martial arts. He never speaks badly of anyone, treats fans with respect, and honors the roots of the sport with his game performances. Even when Alistair Overeem tested for an elevated testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio, knocking him out of their anticipated title fight, dos Santos took the high road, and said he'd still be willing to fight him if that's what he was asked to do.
He's also genuinely honest, so when he was asked about Frank Mir's all-around game on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour, dos Santos noted that he'd seen a trend when it came to moments of adversity. Specifically, he indicated you could push Mir to a breaking point, of which there was no return.
"What I was saying was I can see that in his fights, when he’s in a bad situation, like leaving a bad situation, it’s easy for him to give up," he said. "But when he’s living in a good moment in the fight, he’s a monster. He can capitalize on all the good moments and enjoy that moment really well, like he did with 'Big Nog' [Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira]. But in bad moments, it’s easy for him to give up."
Mir (16-5) has only lost twice since the start of 2007, but each time was to a fighter that pushed him around physically. In one case, it was Brock Lesnar, in the other it was Shane Carwin.
Even though both men have said they're ready to contest the fight anywhere, clearly, the two will be fighting for control of its positioning. Mir knows his best chance is on the ground, and dos Santos knows a standup fight benefits him.
But dos Santos (14-1) said it's not necessarily about the location of the action, but the pace that he sets. That might mean he's willing to swarm Mir and attempt to put him on the defensive from the beginning in hopes that he crumbles under the pressure.
"When you put him a bad situation, when you put more pressure on him, it’s hard for him to fight," he said.
dos Santos started his camp preparing for fellow striker Overeem, but after learning of the opponent switch, he says he's brought in several grapplers and wrestlers to help with his training.
Despite the change in opponent, dos Santos said he is not any less motivated to continue his win streak, hoping to successfully defend the belt for the first time.
"I want to keep this belt for a long, long time," he said. "I think I’m giving more of myself in training. I’m training more and taking it very, very serious because it’s my life. Everything what is happening is my life. I'm really enjoying everything that is happening in my life so I want to keep things going like that."
If he wins, he said he would be willing to face Overeem in the future, when he comes off his suspension. Even with Overeem's troubles, that's a fight many would still like to see.
Dos Santos has repeatedly insisted he is a clean fighter, and railed against those using performance-enhancing drugs.
"When people see me fight, that’s real," he said. "That's me for real. It’s myself fighting. They see Junior dos Santos fighting, being the champ in the fight. When people use drugs to get a better performance, that’s not them fighting. It's something very frustrating because it’s not real. If people want to know who’s the champion for real, I can tell you, I’m the champion for real."
Of course, it remains to be seen if he will remain the champion, with Mir waiting in the wings at UFC 146. dos Santos thinks he can get Mir to wilt under his offensive pressure, but says he's ready even if the fight goes into Mir's world.
"I will be looking for the knockout for sure," he said. "I want to knock him out and I will give my best to knock him out. If the fights goes to the ground, I don't want to put the fight on the ground, but if he takes me down or something like that and holds me there, I will show my jiu-jitsu for everybody. I can tell you I’m ready to fight, it doesn't matter where. I can surprise everyone fighting on the ground, too."